Despite its ups and downs throughout the decades, there’s something special about the Need for Speed franchise. Need for Speed Unbound is perhaps its most intriguing title in recent memory, imbuing a fresh new style and attitude to its street racing. It’s out on December 2nd for Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and PC, and developed by Criterion Games, which last helmed Need for Speed: Most Wanted in 2012. Here are 15 things you need to know before playing it.
Based on American mid-western cities like Chicago, Michigan, Lakeshore City offers many sights. Rydell’s Rides on the east side serves as your first safehouse, while your first Meetup takes place in the Storm Drain at Cyrill Heights. Further south is the Quarry Domes in Lakeshore Quarry, offering a muddier style of racing, while the Car Plant on Kennedy Test Track in the northwest features ways to test out your jumps and drifting. These are just a handful of locations, though – Lakeshore is rife with roads, urban environments, and surrounding wilderness to explore.
Street Racing Culture
Undercover cops and heisting aside, street racing has been a major theme for many Need for Speed titles. As creative director, Kieran Crimmins told IGN concerning Unbound, “Need for Speed is about trendsetting. Need for Speed is about breaking the mold. Need for Speed is about rebellion. It’s at the heart of that street racing fantasy, so we should be exploring new art styles and visions and new ways the game can look, so that we can not only stand out from everything else but also deliver innovation where we should be setting trends.”
Taking inspiration from street art, the style is described as “graffiti-coming-to-life” by art director Darren White. But that’s not all, as it even features artists like Sentrock and JC Riviera with their backdrops in-game.
New Campaign Structure
Promising a “completely new campaign structure,” Need for Speed Unbound focuses on two friends at a family auto shop. When the shop experiences a robbery and they split up, the player must participate in The Grand, the “ultimate street race” to recover a priceless car. You’ll meet several characters throughout your journey, and Crimmins promises that these are “full characters” with their own stories, styles, and rides.
Aside from their unique customization, another interesting bit about the cast is that they have “little story arcs,” as Crimmins described it. This could mean side missions that provide more insight into their backstories and, more importantly, some sweet new rides, parts, Tags and Wraps as potential rewards. Time will ultimately tell, though.
The Grand spans four weeks, but you can’t just wander in for free. You first need to earn enough cash or Bank to buy into the weekly qualifiers. Lose, and it’s all gone. Complete Delivery missions, make Side Bets (which can also cost you cash if you lose), and embark on night events, generating Heat and earning more cash while evading the cops. If the qualifier proves too tough, there are difficulty options that provide more retries and also tone down the cops’ aggression.
If you’ve played Need for Speed Heat, then its Heat mechanic will look familiar. In Unbound, winning races generates Heat, and the more Heat generated, the more aggressive Lakeshore PD becomes. When your Heat is high enough from races during the day, venture out into the night to increase the Risk, adding more multipliers to the Bank earned. But get busted by the cops before depositing it in a Safe House, and you’re left with nothing. There’s a risk vs reward element, and certain events require a specific Heat level to participate and promise big payouts in return.
The cops are described as more tactical in Unbound and will become more aggressive as the Heat level increases. You’ll go from Dodge Charger Patrol cars and AWD Ford Explorers at Heat 1 and 2 to Corvette Interceptors that can match your speed at Heat 3. At Heat 4, the Undercover Camaro and pursuit helicopter arrive, while Heat 5 adds the Ford F-150 to the mix. They’ll still set up barricades and try to ram you off the road, so getting creative and outdriving them long enough to get to a Safe House is key. Fortunately, a police scanner and spotting are available to help avoid the cops.
Boost and Burst Nitrous
Unbound’s Nitrous follows two simple mechanics – holding down the button results in a normal boost, and tapping it triggers Burst Nitrous for even more speed. The latter should be saved for the right moment though since it will drain the meter over time. Boost is earned by drifting, jumping, and skilled driving, ensuring a steady supply through the race (or cop chase).
Over 140 cars
A total of 143 cars await players, and various manufacturers like Aston Martin, BMW, Dodge, Ferrari, Jaguar, Nissan, Porsche, Lamborghini, and more are all here. From the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 2020 and McLaren P1 GTR 2015 to the NISSAN Skyline 2000 GT-R 1971 and Porsche 911 GT3 RS 2019, there’s a decent amount of choice. Like Forza Horizon, each car will have a tier, and there are “thousands of thousands” of tuning combinations in addition to body kits.
Tags, Wraps and Wardrobe Customization
Customization also extends to the new Tags, which are essentially visual effects that trigger when boosting, drifting, jumping, and more. You can turn them off, but they add some style to the racing. There are also Wraps, full kit selections, and the option to remove a car’s exterior parts. In addition, there are new poses (which are customizable) and extensive wardrobe options from brands like Palace, Versace, PUMA, Champion, and more.
Rapper A$AP Rocky has been a prominent part of the marketing and even provides a brand new track for Unbound. Not only does he appear in-game, but also leads the new Takeover Scene mode. Not much is known about it, save for players working together to control Lakeshore City, but Crimmins said the game mode “represented what he was about and also gave a cool event for players to play as well.”
Those playing on PS5 and Xbox Series X will benefit from 4K and 60 FPS gameplay, but that’s not all. Crimmins confirmed that the racing sim’s physics also supports high frame rates, providing “more control and nuance to…the physical movement of the cars.” It’s unknown if Variable Refresh Rate is supported on consoles. If so, this could potentially mean a 120 FPS mode for even more responsiveness.
In terms of multiplayer options, you can drive through the city, meet friends, look for race and playlist requests, and seamlessly join these. There will also be a Banner system for showcasing your Achievements and photos. The various modes and settings have yet to be detailed, but the experience is meant to be as “low friction as possible.”
Free Post-Launch Updates
Monetization has been somewhat of an iffy issue in titles like Need for Speed Payback, though Heat had no microtransactions. Electronic Arts and Criterion didn’t confirm if Unbound would follow the latter’s example. But the publisher did confirm free post-launch updates, which add new experiences, features, content drops and more. Further details are expected “soon.”
The system requirements for Need for Speed Unbound include a Ryzen 5 2600 or Core i5-8600, 8 GB RAM, and a Radeon RX 570 or GeForce GTX 1050 Ti at minimum. Recommended specifications include a Ryzen 5 3600 or Core i7-8700, 16 GB RAM and either a Radeon RX5700 (8GB) or GeForce RTX 2070 (8GB). In both cases, 50 GB of installation space is required. No word yet on the requirements for 4K, but the Steam listing confirms HDR10, Variable Refresh Rate and DLSS support on PC.